Augustana College held its fall semester Symposium Day on Wednesday, October 12 with the theme of civil discourse. Keynote speakers were representatives of PEN America, a nonprofit that works to protect free speech and celebrates creative expression.

Nicholas “Niko” Perez is the program manager of free expression and education at PEN America. In this role, he advances PEN America’s efforts to develop a more informed, civic culture through free expression education and supports advocacy, analysis and outreach in the national debate around free speech and inclusion in higher education. Peris Tushabe is the free expression and education program assistant at PEN America and supports the group’s advocacy for free expression in educational institutions as well as the Free Speech Advocacy Institute

“We will discuss non-censorious approaches to stories and art we find inaccurate or distasteful and consider innovative methods of counterspeech as ways to spread awareness and push for social accountability,” Perez said.

(photo: Bryan Bobb)

Since last March, Augustana administrators and faculty representatives have been discussing PEN America Principles on Campus Speech. The PEN Principles were developed to help guide university and college students, faculty and administrators to advance inclusion and equality while safeguarding intellectual and academic freedom. College trustees will participate in a PEN Principles workshop at their full-board January meeting. “We care about freedom of expression on our campus — that’s the bottom line,” said Sheri Curran, Augustana general counsel. “Our one-year partnership with Pen America includes workshops that promote the value of free speech and helps to develop skills to sustain a culture that upholds free speech and robust inclusion.”

Augustana is providing scholarship funding for 10 students to participate in PEN Principles training on expression advocacy. The program will be virtual. “Once they complete training, we will plan for these 10 students to share their new skills and insight with student groups on campus,” Curran said. “This experience will serve our students long after they leave Augustana, in their workplaces and communities.”

Augustana hosts symposium days once per semester, devoting a full day to an alternative approach for learning. PEN America was founded 100 years ago with Robert Frost, Eugene O’Neill and Willa Cather among its original members. Its mission is to ensure people everywhere are free to create literature, convey ideas, express views and access views, ideas and literature of others.